DEAR CAROLYN: About three years ago my older daughter, "Ashley," and her friends were caught making fun of my husband's sister, "Sue," for being overweight. We had Ashley apologize to her aunt and also had many good talks about bullying and sensitivity. I know Ashley, who is now 17, regrets it and has grown into a better person, but Sue hasn't really warmed up to Ashley again. Sue has asked us if she can invite our 15-year-old daughter, "Tanya," to spend a week with her after Christmas. Since Sue lives in New York City this is going to be a big deal, with them seeing the tree in Rockefeller Center and other highlights. When I asked Sue if she would consider inviting Ashley, too, she told me no, she won't feel comfortable with Ashley in her home and wants this to be a fun, carefree week. My husband wants to let Tanya go but I want to veto unless Ashley gets to go, too. My husband points out that Tanya, who struggles with her weight, has always been much closer to Sue, and that we can do some fun things with Ashley while Tanya is away. We have been arguing about this for a week now and could really use an outside perspective.
ARGUING: Let Tanya go. Your making Ashley's inclusion a condition of sending Tanya might have made sense when they were little and/or if Sue were being biased or capricious. But, Ashley's old enough to understand and even be happy for Tanya, and Sue has a valid reason for choosing as she has.
Now, would it be better if Sue reminded herself Ashley was 14 at the time, and — though cruel — still so emotionally unfinished that holding a fixed view of her is unfair? And could she have used the realities of adolescence to override her emotional reflex to keep Ashley away? Yes to both. But this is part of the lesson Ashley, I hope, learns from the past three years and beyond: that the laws of "actions have consequences" don't have a fairness clause. She can't assume forgiveness just because there are grounds for forgiveness.
Even without the history, I can make good arguments for the one-niece-at-a-time plan. Always sending kids as a package isn't a favor even to the kids.
I dissected all this because that's what I do, but, really, you could have changed the back story to anything and I'd still say: Ashley is 17. She'll manage — so let her.
— Sue may see a solo trip as a way to check in with Tanya and make sure she hasn't been subject to any bullying from Ashley about her weight, even in the past. There could be an incompleteness to Ashley's growth and regret that Sue sees but you don't, that can justify her not wanting to invite Ashley to spend several days in her home.
— That Dad brought it up suggests the family may separate people into groups based on weight, consciously or not, which could explain Ashley's move to bullying of the "other." Also makes we wonder how Ashley has treated Tanya out of the parents' hearing. The whole family might benefit from some introspection on this issue.